Visually guided homing of bumblebees in ambiguous situations: A behavioural and modelling study

by Charlotte Doussot, Olivier J. N. Bertrand, Martin Egelhaaf

Returning home is a crucial task accomplished daily by many animals, including humans. Because of their tiny brains, insects, like bees or ants, are good study models for efficient navigation strategies. Bees and ants are known to rely mainly on learned visual information about the nest surroundings to pinpoint their barely visible nest-entrance. During the return, when the actual sight of the insect matches the learned information, the insect is easily guided home. Occasionally, modifications to the visual environment may take place while the insect is on a foraging trip. Here, we addressed the ecologically relevant question of how bumblebees’ homing is affected by such a situation. In an artificial setting, we habituated bees to be guided to their nest by two constellations of visual cues. After habituation, these cues were displaced during foraging trips into a conflict situation. We recorded bumblebees’ return flights in such circumstances and investigated where they search for their nest entrance following the degree of displacement between the two visually relevant cues. Bumblebees mostly searched at the fictive nest location as indicated by either cue constellation, but never at a compromise location between them. We compared these experimental results to the predictions of different types of homing models. We found that models guiding an agent by a single holistic view of the nest surroundings could not account for the bumblebees’ search behaviour in cue-conflict situations. Instead, homing models relying on multiple views were sufficient. We could further show that homing models required fewer views and got more robust to height changes if optic flow-based spatial information was encoded and learned, rather than just brightness information.

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Paper source
Plos Journal

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